The race will not go on as scheduled amid backlash from the community.
After insisting throughout the week-long aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that the New York City Marathon would proceed as planned on Sunday, it was announced late on Friday afternoon that the annual event has been cancelled.
The rumors that began circulating at around 5:30 PM EST were confirmed shortly thereafter in a short press release issued by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg.
“We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants,” it read in part. “And so we have decided to cancel it.”
In the elite athletes’ hospitality suite, the news was met with varied reactions. New Zealand’s Kim Smith, a top-five favorite, sat in stunned silence watching the story unfold on the TV. Molly Pritz, the top American finisher at last year’s race in 12th place, broke down in tears.
Less than an hour later, Wittenberg and Howard Wolfson, Deputy Mayor for Government Affairs and Communications, explained the rationale for the decision at a press conference, where earlier in the day some of the elite athletes expected to contend for the win on Sunday had been interviewed.
“Obviously this has been a very difficult week for the city of New York,” said Wolfson. “Over course of week the marathon, which is one of th best days in the life of the city, a celebration of life, had become divisive and controversial, a feeling that grew over the course of the week.
“Those of us who love this city and love this race realized this wasn’t the marathon if there were people who were hurt by the running of it. This is obviously difficult news for people trained for it, who came from around the world to run it, but it was obviously the right decision.
“The marathon is the only event that has no dissenters, it’s a unifying event. If all of New York is not behind the race as it is every year, it is not the marathon we know. We will have a fabulous marathon next year, we will rebuild our city better than ever as fast as we can. The race had become a distraction, in an unfortunate way. This was a difficult, painful decision, but the right decision.”
Wittenberg agreed, and noted that the legacy of the race, which had been dedicated earlier in the week to helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy, would ironically be realized without actually running it.
Obviously, a groundswell of opposition to holding the 43rd edition of the race had grown during the week to a crescendo that could no longer be ignored by the city and Road Runners. Many newspapers ran stories and editorials against holding the race so soon after the race when large parts of the city were still without basic services like electricity and water, and social media sites, including the NYRR Facebook page, were filled with comments echoing those sentiments.
Wittenberg then addressed some of the logistical questions regarding the cancellation. All of the 40,000-plus runners will be offered guaranteed entry into the 2013 edition of the race or next year’s NYC Half Marathon, typically held in the spring. “Obviously next year’s race will be extremely difficult to get into,” she acknowledged.
She and Wolfson said proposals for a smaller, alternate event were discussed but ultimately discarded for the same reason the 26-mile race was called off. She said the large field of elite athletes will be “treated fairly,” while acknowledging they were foregoing substantial potential prize winnings and time bonuses.
In keeping with the goal of helping the hurricane victims, she said many of the marathon supplies, such as portajohns, water and space blankets would be donated. “We’re working with City Hall to find out what can best be used where,” she said. “We’re taking some of our event guys and putting them to work on the relief effort. We have a lot of infrastructure, especially at Ft. Wadsworth [where the runners are staged before the start] and hopefully that can be used.”
As for the thousands of runners who had paid more than $200 apiece in entry fees, in addition to travel and lodging expenses, she offered a sincere apology, noting that the extent of the storm damage was more than they had anticipated. “Earlier in the week I said time was on our side,” she said. “But now I say we ran out of time.”